Geography of Madness: Spanish Edition

GOMespThe Geography of Madness is now available in Spanish:

Geografía de la locura: En busca del pene perdido y otros delirios colectivos (Ensayo General)

Una desternillante exploración de las extravagancias y los desvaríos colectivos: ¿Por qué ciertos individuos creen que unos vándalos roban sus penes o que tienen lagartos bajo la piel? ¿Cuál es el origen del vudú? ¿Existe el latah, ese curioso estado que provoca bailes frenéticos y movimientos espasmódicos? Frank Bures ha viajado por todo el mundo para rastrear los síndromes más estrambóticos ligados a la cultura y contar luego deliciosas historias sobre esas extrañezas. Se confirma una vez más que el hombre es un animal muy raro.

Read the rest here.

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Where to Eat Somali Food in Minneapolis

Qoraxlow_11RBG-e1517608934558New story at Roads & Kingdoms, featuring beautiful photos from Priscilla Briggs.

A few months before I moved to Minneapolis, I stopped at a gas station while visiting the city looking for a place to eat. The cashier and two customers—all of whom were Somali—conferred for a minute, then pointed me up the street to a building that didn’t look much like a restaurant. The windows were dark and the façade was strange, but high on the roof was a sign that read: Qoraxlow Restaurant #1 African and American Cuisine.

I walked inside. The place was run down: a giant TV played CNN, there were no menus, and the credit-card machine was broken. But once the door closed, the sound of talking and laughing, and the smell of rice and goat meat, brought me straight back to East Africa. I’ve never tired of eating at Qoraxlow since.

That was nearly a decade ago. Somalis had started landing in Minneapolis in force a few years earlier. After the Somali civil war started in 1991, people came to Minnesota to work in meat-packing jobs in the western part of the state. By 2010, according to Ahmed Ismail Yusuf, author of Somalis in Minnesota, their numbers had grown to somewhere between 36,000 (the U.S. census number) and 70,000 (the community’s estimate). Before long, you could find places like Qoraxlow across Minneapolis. For someone like myself, with young kids and little extra money for the kind of globetrotting I did when I was younger, these places felt like an escape. Sometimes I would meet old Somali men who spoke Italian and young ones who spoke Swahili. I could eat sambusas and drink chai and feel refreshingly far from home.

Read the rest here.

The Sound of Silence

c87f36d1-9a1e-4052-a68c-aa3806ad8a6c-1New story at Slate on Cuba’s Sonic Attacks:

A few weeks after the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump, several people working for the U.S. Embassy in Cuba fell mysteriously ill. Some lost their hearing. Some had headaches and a pain in one ear. Others reported feeling dizzy or nauseous, having trouble focusing, or feeling fatigued. Later, some would have a hard time concentrating, remembering things, sleeping, and even walking.

These symptoms were “medically confirmed,” as the State Department’s medical director Charles Rosenfarb put it, and brain scans were said to show abnormalities in the victims’ white matter, which transfers information between brain regions. The illnesses were believed by the government to be “health attacks,” carried out by a foreign power, though as Todd Brown, assistant director at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “investigative attempts and expert analysis failed to identify the cause or perpetrator.”

Nonetheless, investigators concluded the illnesses, which ultimately affected 24 people, were likely the result of a “sonic device.” This conclusion seems to be primarily due to the fact that some diplomats reported hearing a high-pitched noise in their homes and hotel rooms.

Despite a lack evidence for such a weapon, or any known way it could affect white matter, the sonic weapon theory proved irresistible for both media outlets and for Cuba hawks like Sens. Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez, both of whom immediately transformed the sonic weapon into a handy political weapon.

Read the rest here.

Worst Year Ever? Never.

ColumnArt_Nov17_CutlerNew column from The Rotarian:

The idea that 2016 was the worst year ever started circulating after several celebrity deaths (Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen) were followed by an election that did not go the way many people wanted it to. After that, the worst-year-ever meme became unstoppable, and in 2017, the drumbeat of decline has not stopped. Offhand, I can think of a lot of things that are worse than a cold winter day: the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 1929 stock market crash, the Bataan Death March. But it’s true that things do feel worse than they actually are. Part of the reason lies in the 24-hour news cycle and its never-ending flow of bad news. As writer Jia Tolentino put it in The New Yorker, “There is no limit to the amount of misfortune a person can take in via the Internet, and there’s no easy way to properly calibrate it. … Our ability to change things is not increasing at the same rate as our ability to know about them.”

Whatever the reason, the downbeat trend has accelerated among people of all political stripes, and it is noteworthy because it goes directly against the strongest current in American culture: our optimism, our sense that problems are meant to be solved and that solving them is our job. Since our country’s founding, America has been a can-do place, a place of possibility. Our creed has always been a certain sometimes naive faith that things will work out for the best. And for the most part – believe it or not – they have.

Contrary to what you might think, violence is at all-time lows, as is the rate of global poverty. War deaths are fewer than ever in betterangels-250x381history. On most indicators where you might think progress is not being made, the opposite is probably true. Nicholas Kristof recently pointed out in a column in The New York Times: “2017 is likely to be the best year in the history of humanity.” He continued: “Every day, another 250,000 people graduate from extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures. About 300,000 get electricity for the first time. Some 285,000 get their first access to clean drinking water. When I was a boy, a majority of adults had always been illiterate, but now more than 85 percent can read.”

Read the rest here.

Festival Season: Upcoming Appearances

It’s festival season again, and over the next few weeks I’ll be speaking at two. First, on Sunday October 29th I’ll be talking about the power of belief at the Chicago Humanities Festival. The following weekend on Saturday, November 4, I’ll be in Madison for the Wisconsin Book Festival. If you’re near either one, please stop by! Details below:

CHF_Logo-No_Tagline_RedThe Geography of Madness
Sunday, October 29, 4 – 5 PM
Chicago Athletic Association, Stagg Court
12 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

Is there a connection between mental health, disease, and belief? In Geography of Madness, journalist Frank Bures offers a resounding yes. In tracking the delusion that one’s genitals can be stolen—a relatively common complaint in countries ranging from Nigeria to Singapore—Bures sought to uncover the roots of a whole range of “culture–bound syndromes,” and how people’s beliefs about their health shape their physical experiences of health. Join Bures for a conversation about penis theft, placebos, and the intersection of Western and Chinese medicine.

main_logoThe Geography of Madness
11/04/2017, 4:00pm
Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, DeLuca Forum

The Geography of Madness is an investigation of “culture-bound” syndromes, which are far stranger than they sound. Why is it, for example, that some men believe, against all reason, that vandals stole their penises, even though they’re in good physical shape? In The Geography of Madness, acclaimed magazine writer Frank Bures travels around the world to trace culture-bound syndromes to their sources–and in the process, tells a remarkable story about the strange things all of us believe.

Presented in partnership with the Wisconsin Science Festival.

How To Be Wise

Cutler2017007-2 copyMy latest column from The Rotarian:

Recently I was looking through some of my grandmother’s things and came across her tattered, softcover Bible. As I paged through it, a yellowed newspaper article fell out. It was from a 1966 edition of the Minneapolis Star, written by a certain Dr. Walter C. Alvarez. It was titled “You Can Grow Old Gracefully.”

Nowadays, that sentiment is not very widespread. Growing old has become something to be dreaded, feared, and, if possible, avoided. This is partly rooted in America’s youth-oriented culture, which differs from that of places like Japan or parts of Africa, where older people are seen as repositories of wisdom and authority.

Still, I liked the headline of Dr. Alvarez’s column, even if the useful advice in his article was limited to exhortations to read widely, be friendly, and try to cultivate an interesting persona in youth and middle age. If you become a good and interesting person when you’re young, he wrote, you will be a good and interesting person when you are old.

My grandmother did, in fact, age gracefully. She never become bitter or isolated or hopeless, even though her husband died – after falling off a ladder – just four years after she cut out that article. For as long as she could manage, she played bridge, went to water aerobics, and worked the crossword puzzle, and she always seemed able to see the humor in things. That she kept that article – in her Bible no less – meant that she must have had some faith that aging gracefully was something she could do.

Read the rest here.